Ten years ago today, Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Elliott Smith died under mysterious circumstances. He was found at his Los Angeles bungalow on Lemoyne street (a few houses down from my own house in the Echo Park district), with two stab wounds to his chest. The autopsy results were inconclusive: Did he do it to himself? Was his live-in girlfriend responsible? Someone else? All the world was left with was a message on a Post-It note (“I'm so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me.”) and a huge hole in the music scene that's still felt to this day.
That, and a relatively small but incredible discography that taught his generation how to make beauty out of despair. His well-publicized battles with drugs and depression didn't stopping from coming up with amazing melodies and hooks, imaginative guitar work, heart-wrenching poetry and that chilling singing, that murmur that made you feel he was singing exclusively for you and me. His music was dark, but never depressing, at least for me. On the contrary, his best songs have an uplifting power in the best Beatles tradition, and all his albums still sound great today and are text books for serious bands and songwriters everywhere.
After his death, unreleased songs and posthumous albums kept coming up, and recently another song saw the light of day: a version of "Christian Brothers" recorded by Heatmiser (Smith, Neil Gust, Sam Coomes and Tony Lash), the Portland band he kept during the early part of his solo career.
Smith's own version of the song was released on 1995's Elliott Smith, but the track was originally supposed to be a Heatmiser song, according to drummer Tony Lash, who posted the song and said the band's version was also recorded in 1995.
"He was our John Lennon," photographer Autumn de Wilde, who did the Figure 8 sessions and worked on the "Son of Sam" video, told The Hollywood Reporter. "I felt like we finally had someone
a really great poet for our generation. There aren't very many songwriters who perfectly capture the time period, which is when you discover them, and also outlast it. He's one of them."
A new book on Elliott Smith, Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith (by William Todd Schultz), came out on October 1.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.